The Call to Holiness

IMG_3315In this week’s parsha, Parshas Shmini, we read of the laws of permitted and forbidden in regard to kashrus.   דַּבְּרוּ אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר:  זֹאת הַחַיָּה אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכְלוּ, מִכָּל-הַבְּהֵמָה אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָאָרֶץ, Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: these are the life forms that you may eat from among all the animals that are upon the earth (Lev.11:2).  The Torah outlines the signs of kosher animals and fish, and names the different animals that we may or may not eat.

אַל-תְּשַׁקְּצוּ, אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם, בְּכָל-הַשֶּׁרֶץ, הַשֹּׁרֵץ; וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ בָּהֶם, וְנִטְמֵתֶם בָּם – do not make your souls disgusting by means of any creeping things; and you shall not make yourselves impure through them lest you become impure through them (ibid, v.43).   The Chafetz Chaim, R’ Yisrael Meir Ha’Kohen Kagin of Radin zt’l, teaches that the Torah gives a great warning.  Do not make yourselves impure by eating treifus and forbidden foods.  For the nature of man is that when he tastes the forbidden, even once or twice, his end will be that he will become accustomed to this and “ha’isur na’aseh lo ki’heter – the forbidden becomes permissible to him”.  And the end result is vi’nit’maisem bam – he will become impure through them.   

This can be compared, says the Chafetz Chaim, to the owner of a spice store, who left his business and opened a leather store.  The process of preparing the hides produces foul odors and in the beginning, the proprietor is disgusted by the smells.  However, after a short while, he becomes so accustomed to the smells that he does not smell anything foul at all! 

The East Side, New York – 1930.  It was the night of Hoshana Rabbah – R’ Yaakov Yosef Herman z’l, the legendary American machnis orchim had gone to shul, where he would spend the night learning Torah.

It was almost midnight and young Ruchama was sitting at home watching Mama salt the twenty-four chickens that she was kashering in relays of six.  Mama sprinkled the salt evenly into every crevice of each chicken, so that it flowed like silvery raindrops falling from the sky. 

“Go to sleep, Ruchama,” Mama said, “you’ve helped enough today.”  Ruchama was grateful to be excused and ran off to bed.

Suddenly, in her sleep, Ruchama felt a tugging and heard her mother, “Wake up, Ruchama!  Wake up!”  She sat up abruptly and there was Mama, stifling her sobs.  “I was just putting away all the pupiklach of the chickens I finished kashering, and I noticed on one pupek there seems to be a shailoh.  They’re all mixed up now, so if this pupik is treif, all the chickens will be…”  Mama could not finish her sentence, afraid to voice the horrible thought.  “Ruchama, you must run quickly to Papa in Tiferes Yerushalayim and tell him to go right now to R’ Skinder to ask a shailoh.  Don’t forget to tell Papa that I have no idea from which of the twenty-four chickens this pupik comes from.”

Ruchama dressed quickly and quietly.  Clutching the questionable pupik in a soggy little bag, she sped through the dark streets of New York.  Ruchama rushed into the shul and there was Papa, sitting in front of an open sefer.  “Oh, Papa, Mama just finished kashering all the twenty-four chickens, and she mixed up all the pupiklach, and she found a shailoh on one of them, and she doesn’t know which chicken it’s from, and she said you must go right away to R’ Skinder!” 

Papa grabbed his hat and he and Ruchama reached Henry Street and the home of the Rav just a few minutes later, where R’ Skinder greeted them warmly. 

“My wife was kashering a chicken and found a shailoh on this pupik,” R’ Yaakov Yosef declared.  Ruchama opened her mouth to speak but Papa’s stern gaze served as warning enough to keep her quiet.  R’ Skinder poked and probed the pupik under the light of his lamp, while the fate of twenty-four chickens hung in the balance.

Ruchama trembled – what if it was treif?  Thoughts of her worried mother clouded her vision… Yet Papa stood straight and tall, like a soldier in Hashem’s army.  After what seemed like hours, R’ Skinder looked up and announced, “Kosher, kosher!”

“Rebbe,” Papa said, “had you pronounced this pupik treif, I would have thrown out twenty-four chickens.  My wife does not know which chicken this pupik comes from.”  “Reb Yaakov Yosef, why didn’t you tell me?  When there is great loss involved, I examine the shailoh differently,” replied the Rav.  “I never look for heterim,” Papa answered and then thanked the Rav.

“Ruchama, run home and tell Mama this pupik is 100% kosher!  I’m going back to shul.” 

Ruchama ran home, whereupon she burst through the front hall of the apartment building and called out loudly, “Mama!  Mama!  The pupik is kosher!  It’s kosher!”  Mama rushed out, “It’s all right, Mama!” Ruchama exclaimed, “It’s 100% percent kosher!”  Upon hearing those words, Mama burst into tears.  (All for the Boss, p.158-160)

וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים, כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי – you are to sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy, for I am holy (Lev.11:44).  We must be a holy nation, a holy people, each one of us a holy person.  It is the mitzvos of Hashem – all-encompassing, all-powerful and far-reaching, that bring us to an exalted and elevated state of holiness.

Let us be sure to serve Him as “soldiers in Hashem’s army,” embracing Torah and mitzvos, for it is our life and the length of our days.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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